“Anything good?” Marilyn asked as I was thumbing through the mail.
“Yea, something from Social Security. Hey, maybe they increased my benefits,” I replied, experimenting with the outer limits of wishful thinking.
I ripped open the envelope addressed to Mr. Jon Kawie (they misspelled my name yet again) and proceeded to paraphrase the enclosed form loud enough for Marilyn to hear.
“This is to inform you that we no longer consider you Disabled. As of now you are officially just Old. Your benefits will be decreased accordingly.”
“OK, not exactly in those words — but apparently I’ve been reclassified from disability to retirement with a pay cut in the process!”
I was speechless. How did I suddenly become non-disabled when I still felt pretty damn disabled? If my neurologist — who actually has a degree in medicine — came up with this diagnosis there would be talk of commitment proceedings. It’s not like Dumbledore waved his magic wand and — poof! — my left hand started working. Plus, being labeled “old” was more offensive to me than “disabled.”
It felt like Social Security had traded me behind my back. For 20 years I was the leadoff hitter working my butt off for Team Disability. Then suddenly, without warning, I’m sitting on the bench for The Geriatrics where I’m just a number. Granted, a nine-digit number, but a number nonetheless.
I had two choices. I could see this as a premature separation from my rightful group, or I could embrace it. While I didn’t exactly embrace it, especially the reduction in dollars, I did try to look on the bright side and find some common ground.
For instance, having my stroke at 47 was like a dress rehearsal for my senior years. I was instantly eligible for Social Security and Medicare with all the accompanying perks: movie discounts, restaurant coupons and half price on planes, trains and rent-an-automobile! America may run on Dunkin’ but I got the discount.
Then there’s the forgetfulness… I’m at a dinner party trying to have a serious conversation expressing my opinion about “That guy… you know… lives in that house… always in the news… nice suits…” Suddenly I’m playing charades, until someone blurts out, “President of the United States!” Yet I have no problem remembering the Doublemint gum jingle, both melody and lyrics!
What would this new classification mean?
I’ll have to surrender my disability Metro card for a senior’s replacement. Before you know it, I’ll start referring to people under 40 as “whippersnappers” and words like “dagnabbit” and “brouhaha” will be part of my everyday vocabulary. I’ll become crotchety and irritated with the teenage greeter at CVS because, damn it, I know where the Geritol is! “Antiques Roadshow” will have to be avoided because any appraisal above $10 will be too much for my heart. I’ll hate every song written after the Beatles broke up. And if menus aren’t printed in letters the size of Chris Christie, I’ll need binoculars to order the early bird special.
It seems to be human nature to label people and put them in categories. Our parents gave us names because they wanted us to have an identity and to know who we are. I’m neither old nor disabled. I’m just John — with an “h” of course.